“An ideal is something we believe is right, but it may not be practical. Whereas an attitude should be something that we can put into practice right from where we are.”
TKV Desikachar

What Are We Seeking?

Yoga Practice Spring 2020

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Tone

On the one hand, it feels like I’ve had a long sequence of uninterrupted practice. Uninterrupted by any major event (no allergy, no back strain). On the other hand, this period has been affected by a continuous sense of agitation and disruption. One cause for this has been lack of clarity and insecurity about my relationship with Iulia, a relationship that is going through a major transformation that I hope leads to a more peaceful co-existence.

The Coronavirus pandemic has added to that. My day-to-day lifestyle and routine have not changed much because of the virus. The most impactful experience of disruption for me was Iulia’s choice to travel to the UK for a Vipasana retreat at the end of February just as the pandemic was gaining momentum. This included a conversation before her travels that left me and my sensemaking feeling alone, lost and helpless … and the brokenness between the two of us (relatively close) people left me questioning the capacity of human beings to move gracefully together on larger scales. Then, as a consequence of her travels came logistic disruptions around her quarantine away from home and then return home after a few weeks.

The common thread has been a continued amplification of a sense of: wholeness when looking inwards and brokenness when looking outward at the world (both near and far). Practice has continued to be a solid foundation upon which I stand. My intellectual sensemaking feels challenged and challenging. But the sensemaking I experience through my body, breath and attention is clear and whole. I can clearly sense subtle (and gross) differences through practice and I use that in a kind of feedback loop to navigate my life.

If my morning practice indicates a sense of diminishment I look back at the previous day(s) and try to identify things that may have affected me negatively and try to adjust the contents of my days to avoid activities or interactions that drain me. The findings are not surprising and often obvious since I likely had negative emotional responses when they occurred. However, I wait for the wholistic feedback of practice to guide me. I find the embodied feedback more reliable than both excessive & fleeting emotional responses and logical reasoning. If my morning practice indicates a sense of increased vitality I try to look back and add more of what nourishes me (basically trying to increase a sense presence and mastery in my actions and choosing activities which evoke my sense of presence and mastery).

In a (simplistic) way, the result is an amoeba-like behavior of moving towards nourishing patterns and away from poisonous patterns. The overall movement of this period seems to be towards increased retreat and reduced engagement. This, to me, is not an obvious or trivial outcome.

… yet in this period I have (hesitantly) reached out to the world once again … this time with an offering of breath

Practice

Practice has remained at its core unchanged. It has however fluctuated. I adjust the practice in response to my sense of vitality.

There are fluctuations that seem to have a roughly-monthly cycle. This will include 2 or 3 days of tiredness where I switch modality of practice to either maintenance or, if necessary, healing. I’ve started logging some information about these ~monthly recurring events and am curious to see if a pattern will emerge over time.

Then there was a larger-scale periodic fluctuation. I do not recall the fall months well (too much time has passed). However moving into winter I felt a steady increase in vitality and expansion in breath. Then, during winter I came to a kind of stand-still in vitality but the quality of my breath suffered.

Most of winter I experienced some blockage in my nostrils … mostly the left … which effected mostly the Pranayama practice but sometimes also the asana practice. I accommodated this by shifting from Pratiloma Ujjayi to Anulom Ujjayi – still using a 1:2 ratio. That brought stability back to my practice and allowed me to ease the breath by shifting, as necessary, from 8 breaths a round to 6 breaths a round.

Somewhere in late January/early February, there was a turn and I felt vitality gradually and steadily increasing. I started to feel strong in my core, extended B.K. holds returned and spread throughout the practice and a sense of strength and lightness returned.

Pranayama had expanded within the 1:2 ratio to a steady peak of 8.8.16.8. But the blocked nostril was still there and I started to feel constrained by it. Some weeks ago I decided to shift back to a 1:1.5 ratio and a 10 second inhale, still with Anuloma Ujjayi, currently peaking at 10.5.15.10. In recent days the nostril blockage seems to be easing somewhat … though seasonal allergy is just around the corner … so curious how breathing evolve over the next couple of months.

The Mahamudra journey has gone through fluctuations (in response to my overall vitality). Over the last 2 months it has seen renewed vigor and is currently hovering around:

12.4.12.4 x6 breaths
12.4.12.8 x3 breaths
12.8.12.8 x3 breaths

Shortly after the new year, I was able to chant Yoga Sutra chapter 1 completely and I started learning chapter 2. I was surprised to experience a much-accelerated learning curve … I am nearing completion of chapter 2.

  • Full practice is almost 3 hours long and occupies my mornings.
  • As the weather has improved we’ve started spending more time outdoors working. I am warming up to that. I currently feel good working physically for 2 – 3 hours of physically demanding work (earthbag construction). I can go up to 4-5 hours of moderate physical work (workshop).
  • When I push the physical work too far it usually affects the next morning’s practice … causing some tiredness which requires some form of compensation in practice.
  • The Coronavirus has brought more people into online interaction and therefor “closer to me”. This has increased my exposure to online interaction … I generally limit this to one session a day, usually in the evening after work … and apply the same amoeba-mentality to them … nourishing stays and diminishing is reduced.

The days are getting longer and starting to feel too long … I am not finding the energy and vitality to fill them well … so still figuring that part out.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I | You are welcome to add your comment

AlphaGo

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I enjoyed this documentary about AlphaGo – the AI that cracked the game of Go. However, I felt that there was another player at the table, an overlooked player: the qualitative outcome. Despite the potential complexity of the game of Go, its outcome is still a simplistic quantity: area conquered.

I have a feeling that the better this technology gets and the better we get at applying it, the more likely we are to lose touch with quality, with human nature and human sensibilities … with life. Measurable efficiency will attain godhood.

I have witnessed this kind of trap in my own (non AI) thinking. I aspire to have a warm home with little to no energy input. I’ve done research on this and have come up with (for now theoretical) answers on how to achieve this. They involve strategically burying and insulating a house WITH the earth around it. This presents challenges in terms of natural light.

Through my exploration of Christopher Alexander’s work, I’ve come to appreciate that warmth is a holistic experience that goes beyond temperature/humidity experience. I am now willing to compromise (intelligently) on thermal efficiency to provide a space with good lighting because a well-lit (and properly insulated) space can feel warm and inviting (more than an efficiently thermally insulated space that is dark and gloomy).

Posted in Intake, Intellect Run Amok, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

The Unfolding of 17th Century Amsterdam

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… reminder – you are looking at 100 years in a few minutes!

via Yodan Rofe of Building Beauty

Posted in AltEco, Community, Design, outside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Asana Gradient: Backbends

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Gradient Documentation Started: Feb 32, 2020. Therefore, the timeline preceding this date is not precise, it is based on partial documentation and partial recollection.

This gradient involves numerous asana off the same “family.” Though the individual asana do evolve separately that evolution does not usually involve noticeable external changes in form. Looking from the outside you would not see a physical change (though you may notice an energy change).

The evolution is more noticeable in the sequence in which the postures come together. So unlike other specific Asana gradients, in this case, the focus of attention will be the sequence of itself

1: Not Practicing

The most noticeable form of this sequence is when it is not a part of my practice sequence. In fact, when I feel that my energy lacks vitality this sequence is one of the first things I remove from my practice sequence. It has a brmhana (expanding) quality and if my energy is not vital enough to support it (even though I may be able to “do” the sequence) it can deplete me and lead to negative effects (such as compromising my Pranayama practice).

When there is a more noticeable life distraction that affects my practice routine I may not practice this sequence for a period of time (weeks, sometimes months). After such a break I will often go back to a mild version of the sequence and start building it up again. This has happened numerous times over the years. Also, over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do get back to this sequence, if I am attentive, I can move quicker (then I did in the past) through the evolving steps. I consider knowing when NOT to practice this sequence a key step in my relationship with it.

Because of this fluctuating relationship with the sequence, what follows is the path of evolution of a sequence without a specific timeline.

Also, the diagrams do not show it, but between all the variations there is a resting posture.

2: Starting

The sequence starts with relatively simple and symmetrical variations of bhujangasana. This allows me to sense where I am, to see how I respond to the brmhana quality, to build up confidence and to test, over a few days, if I feel stable enough to add more to the sequence.

3: Sustain

This is a relatively soft transformation. It adds a third variation that extends the overall sequence and adds a bit of intensity. It tells me if/when I can continue to turn up the volume safely.

4: Asymmetrical

This transformation, the addition of ardha salabhasana, is more dramatic. It is a transformation I can do safely because I have an established relationship with backbends. It is likely not a suitable transformation for a novice practitioner.

5: Arm Sweeping

This transformation is actually a sequence of transformations. The change is in the 3rd variation in which sweeping of the arms is added.

Withing the sweeping of the arms there is an additional gradient. I go through different variations that gradually lead to the next transformation – the numbers indicate the arms positions I go to within the 4 repetitions of the asana – spending at least a couple of days at each variation:

  • 1 1 2 3
  • 1 2 3 4
  • 1 3 3 4
  • 3 3 4 4

6: Raising Legs

This is a transformation I sometimes skip (because I do plenty of leg work in other ways), but sometimes I go through it for a short period. I will add this alternating leg raising to the sequence:

7: Integrating Salabhasana

Salabhasana slides in naturally by evolving the arm sweeping in transformation 5.

I will do 3 arm sweeps (positions 1 3 4) and on the 4th movement go into a full salbhasana and continue on from there by either replacing another of the sweeping movement with a full salabhasana or adding a 5th movement. That is as far as I have gone at the time of this writing.

Posted in Asana, Asana Gradients, Gradients, Yoga, Yoga & I | You are welcome to add your comment

Sequence: The Difference Between a Novice and a Master

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The experienced carpenter keeps going … every action he performs, is calculated in such a way that some later action can put it right to the extent that it is imperfect now. What is critical here, is the sequence of events. The carpenter neves takes a step which he cannot correct later; so he can keep working, confidently, steadily.

The novice, by comparison, spends a great deal of his time trying to figure out what to do. He does this essentially because he knows that an action he takes now may cause unretractable problems a little further down the line … The fear of these kinds of mistakes forces him to spend hours trying to figure ahead: and it forces him to work as far as possible to exact drawings because they will guarantee that he avoids these kinds of mistakes.

The difference between the novice and the master is simply that the novice has not learnt, yet, how to do things in such a way that he can afford to make small mistakes. The master knows that the sequence of his actions will always allow him to cover his mistakes a little further down the line. It is this simple but essential knowledge which gives the work of a master carpenter its wonderful, smooth, relaxed, and almost unconcerned simplicity.

Christopher Alexander – A Pattern Language
Pattern 208: Gradual Stiffening
Posted in A Pattern Language, AltEco, Design, outside, Quality | Tagged , | You are welcome to add your comment

Asana Gradient: Parsva Uttanasana

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Gradient Documentation Started: Feb 2, 2020. Therefore, the timeline preceding this date is not precise, it is based on partial documentation and partial recollection.

1: Spring 2016 – Re-introduction

When, early in my practice, I arrive at Parsva Uttanasana – flank forward bend – I feel like I am fully stepping into practice. It was added to my current practice in spring 2016. Before it come gentler movements, mostly symmetrical, that awaken and stretch my body – they tell me where I am. Parsva Uttanasana begins to tell me where I may be going today.

I believe I started it back in 2016, with a repeat 2 + stay 2 structure. It was demanding physically and my breath was probably around 8.0.8.0.

Gradually the posture developed both in breath and body. I felt:

  • a strengthening in my core, my spine and my legs.
  • improved flexibility in my spine – able to bend down further.
  • softening in my shoulders.

The combination of softness in my shoulders, strength in my spine and length of breath gave me access to feel and work on lengthening my spine as an active stretching vector.

Over time I was also able to introduce short B.K. (after the exhale) holds.

2: Spring 2018 – Sound

I think this transformation coincided with the initiation of my chanting education. Sound was added to the posture. Initially an “ã” sound on every exhale. Then at some point, again echoed by my chanting practice, I came to use two different sounds:

I felt that the addition of sound required core strength, stability and length of breath I had available to me. The addition of sound provided another subtle mirror for me and invited to me further lengthen my exhale. I recall that the exhale while staying in the posture took on symmetrical structure: each of the three sounds continued for a (subjective) count of 4 seconds – for a total of 12 seconds exhale.

I believe that the extended exhale gradually effected the inhale which lengthened to a stable 8 – 10 seconds.

3: Winter 2018/2019 – Long Breath

By the end of that year my breath was comfortably longer in the posture: 12.4.12.6. I was able to that ratio it well in the mid-range movement breaths. In the full-range movement (going in and coming out of the posture) the breath was slightly shorter. At this point the quality and length of breath was affected more by the quality of my attention. If my attention wavered, so did the quality and length of breath.

The extended breath also led me deeper into the posture. By now my spine was arching down all the way so that my head touched my knee (or just slightly beneath it). I started to place more attention on abdominal contraction while down. I also started to make the front-leg more active … gradually strengthening and stretching it so that the knee was less bent.

Sometime during this period I stopped using sound in the posture. When I was in a recovery period I tended not to use sound, to focus more on body and breath. I also went through periods where I felt attracted to silence (during which there were also pauses in chanting). Eventually, the posture went silent.

4: Fall 2019 – Active Arms

In the second set of mid-range movements on each side I added side arm movement. Gently increasing both the load on my spine and on my legs (I really felt it in legs in the beginning).

5: Winter 2019/2020 – Eyes Closed & Long B.K.

I don’t remember when I first started closing my eyes while doing the mid-range movements in the posture. I felt stable while in the posture and closing my eyes seemed to increase my presence and awareness of my body. It also carried me deeper into B.K. holds (holding the breath after the exhale). I found myself exploring holds up to 8 seconds long, sometimes even longer. Again attention seemed to be a key ingredient in arriving and staying at a good B.K.transformationI don’t remember when I first started closing my eyes while doing the mid-range movements in the posture. I felt stable while in the posture and closing my eyes seemed to increase my presence and awareness of my body. It also carried me deeper into B.K. holds (holding the breath after the exhale). I found myself exploring holds up to 8 seconds long, sometimes even longer. Again attention seemed to be a key ingredient in arriving and staying at a good B.K.

I remember, while in a continuous undisturbed practice sequence, experiencing strength and stability in the posture. I felt strong in my core and that gave me a clear sense of center and stability. I wondered if I could move in and out of the posture. I found that I could. Closing my eyes further connected me to abdominal engagement and to the lengthening of the spine while moving in and out of the posture.

So in this transformation, the physical structure of the posture remains similar to the previous with changes in breath and attention.

Posted in Asana Gradients, Gradients, Yoga, Yoga & I | You are welcome to add your comment

Yoga Practice – Prayer Withing Closing Ritual End of 2019

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As this year arrives at its natural ending I leave it with yet another slightly revised prayer that anchors the end of my daily practice.

אני מברך על החומר הגלום בעולם ועל איכויותיו
אני מברך על המסעיר, המסתיר והמבהיר
אני מברך על הייקום העצום המתפרש לכל עבר
אני מברך על השמש, על חומה ועל אורה
אני מברך על האדמה הנושאת אותי ומעניקה גוף
אני מברך על השמיים שנוצרו בין השמש לאדמה’ שעוטפים אותי ומעניקים נשימה
אני מברך על מרחב החיים שנוצר בין השמיים לאדמה בהם אני שותף

אני מברך על אמי נורית ועל אבי יעקב
אני מברך על אחותי רויטל ועל אחותי אורית
אני מברך על קודמינו עליזה ויואל וחנה ואריק
אני מברך על קודמיהם ועל קודמי קודמיהם
אני מברך על קרובי דמינו, שהיו ושהינם
אני מברך על מקורבי לבי ועל שומרי נפשי
אני מברך על הנפש, מקור ההתבוננות הנצחית

אני מברך על התלמיד שבקרבי
אני מברך על המורה שבקרבתי, שהלך כברת דרך לפני
אני מברך על מורתי זיוה ועל מורי פול
אני מברך על דסיקצ’ר ואביו קרישנמצ’ריה
אני מברך על מוריהם ומורי מוריהם
אני מברך על התובנות שצלחו את הדורות

אני מברך על היוגה, על המחוברות השלמות והשייכות
אני מקדיש את שהתגלה לי למסעינו המשותף

Purusa & Prakrti

  • I dedicate a breath to prakrti – that which is eternally changing.
  • I dedicate a breath to the three gunas
  • I dedicate a breath to the excitement of rajas
  • I dedicate a breath to the obscurity of tamas
  • I dedicate a breath to the clarity of sattva
  • I dedicate a breath to the enormous cosmos reaching out in all directions.
  • I dedicate a breath to the sun and the light and warmth that it radiates
  • I dedicate a breath to the earth which carries me and of which I am made.
  • I dedicate a breath to the sky that form between earth and sun and that bring forth breath
  • I dedicate a breath to the space that forms between the sky and the earth which brings forth a life in which I partake.
  • I dedicate a breath to my mother.
  • I dedicate a breath to my father.
  • I dedicate a breath to the older of my two sisters.
  • I dedicate a breath to the younger of my two sisters.
  • I dedicate a breath to our ancestors.
  • I dedicate a breath to our ancestor’s ancestors.
  • I dedicate a breath to our past and present blood relatives
  • I dedicate a breath to kindred spirirts with whom I’ve shared a heart connection
  • I dedicate a breath to guardian angels who guide my spirit.
  • I dedicate a breath to purusa – that which eternally sees.

Student, Teacher, Teaching

  • I dedicate a breath to the student in me.
  • I dedicate a breath to the teacher near me who walks ahead of me on the path.
  • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Ziva.
  • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Paul.
  • I dedicate a breath to Paul’s teacher Desikachar.
  • I dedicate a breath to Desikachar’s teacher (and father) Krishnamacharya.
  • I dedicate a breath to all of their teachers.
  • I dedicate a breath to all their teacher’s teachers.
  • I dedicate a breath to the teachings that have traveled down through time
  • I dedicate a breath to Yoga – to connectedness, wholeness and belonging.
  • I dedicate that which has been revealed to me to our shared exploration.
Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

Autism Labeling

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This tweet appeared in my feed:

Hey if you work in tech and you know you’re neurodivergent, please reply to this tweet if you’re willing to make yourself available to answer questions to other folks in tech who think they might be. We need to pull a chunk of us out of the matrix, which means organizing a bit.

source

… and I was amazed by the engagement it invited and the comments people left (you can see them for yourself by clicking on “source” above). This was my response to it:

This makes me feel like I am getting old! I (think I) understand where this is coming from but I am disturbed and saddened by (so many) people jumping at an opportunity to identify and label themselves using a mechanistic, reductive pathological framework.

source

to which the author of the original retweet replied with an invitation for others to relate:

Anyone want to help @iamronen understand why realizing you’re autistic is life-changing in so many positive ways?

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Following are some of the responses that I got that also got a lot of support (likes, retweets) from others:

My husband has been slowly internalizing that he’s not some freak from hell asshole, he’s just himself and his brain works the way it does, end of story. It’s nice to see, and it’s coming from realizing he has adhd and is autistic.

source

Honestly, knowing what’s up lets me have some frank discussions with work about that tasks I will shine at vs the ones that will give me fits. So they get better productivity and I get less stress. I call that a win.

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Knowing my brain doesn’t produce enough/responding to dopamine makes basic tasks hard and it’s not a moral failing for “not trying hard enough” on my part is kind of important. I would be the same person with or without the label, I’d just be hella more depressed and lonely.

source

A greater understanding among ourselves isn’t just a ‘feel good’ thing. By increasing understanding and awareness of each other we are able to produce better things, and more of them. It benefits everyone. “I wish we all understood each other less!” is a terrible business mantra.

source

I’d like to try to elaborate on the source of my discomfort. I realize this is a sensitive matter, at least to the people who responded to the original thread or to my comment. My intention is not to disrespect anyone, but to offer my personal view, based on my life experience. I agree with and share most of the sentiments that were expressed by others. But I feel there is more to explore.

Part 1: Depression

In my late teens and early twenties (almost 30 years ago), I suffered. When life pushed up harder against me that suffering yielded suicidal thinking. I don’t recall ever being officially diagnosed or labeled as depressed (to my face anyway). I was treated with both psychology (conversation) and psychiatry (medication) and I have a solid retrospective impression that the framing for it all was “depression.”

I don’t have the impression that it was ever resolved. Treatment faded out and life went on. Some things seemed to work out. I got a job that became a successful career, I got paid, I met a girlfriend, I moved out to live with her … life seemed to happen … sometimes even to work out.

But the “depression” was always (and in a way still is) there in the background. During low times “depression” felt like it was breathing down my neck. The inevitability of sadness seemed to lurk dangerously close to “depression” and I carried a subtle fear that the tempting trap of “depression” was waiting for me to take a wrong step.

In fact, I believe that if I were to bend my ear today to a “medical professional” I would still be diagnosed with depression (and possibly other pathologies).

Part 2: Adaptive

Many years have since passed and woven into them was what seems like a chaotic, challenging and highly unpredictable life. The forces that have since shaped me:

  1. Failure to create a reasonably sustainable life that would not be defined by anxiety (despite what seemed, for quite some time, like a successful career).
  2. Struggling with the culture and authorities of a country for the right to be in a relationship with an immigrant.
  3. A sudden and surprising dive into a creative exploration that conjured in me a sense of deeper purpose. This was shortly followed by a slow decay into financial poverty that denied me access to the creative space.
  4. An ongoing (20+ years) immersion in study and practice of Yoga as a metaphysical, philosophical, psychological, physical and practical way of life.
  5. A pursuit of purpose that took me away from a familiar world in Israel (where I’d lived most of my life) and dropped me into rural living in Romania.
  6. An ongoing effort to create, shape, transform and generally improve my physical living environment – here in rural Romania.

When I started out my life journey I inherited a mindset and toolbox which was supposed to allow me to become a successful operator of a machine-like world. My failure (despite a sincere attempt) to live out that narrative made way for another narrative. In this narrative, I am an adaptive creature that has been shaped by all the environments (physical, cultural, intellectual, energetic) in which I have lived. I am the BEST possible outcome of a deeply complex process of unfolding wholeness.

I like to think about how a snowflake falls through the atmosphere. Every gust of wind, change in humidity, change of direction, change of temperature, contributes to the unique shape of a snowflake. Similarly, I believe, my passage through life has shaped me. But, of course, this metaphor is incomplete. It leaves out a sense of agency. It does not account for my felt experience, that to a certain extent I am able to intentionally, willfully navigate my life.

Part 3: Source

When I subscribed to the notion that “I was depressed” that came with a bunch of implications:

  • I was “broken” – it was my state of mind and chemistry of brain that was flawed.
  • Therefore “I that was broken” was also what needed “fixing.” Psychotherapy would fix my mind and medication would fix my brain chemistry.
  • As long as “I was broken” there were places I didn’t belong and things I shouldn’t do: I needed frequent psychological evaluations to make sure it was OK for me to drive a car.

Through it all there was a subtle finger pointed at me as being the “source of dysfunction.”

Back in 2010 I wrote this reflection about depression & suicide. I don’t recall what prompted the reflection or why I chose to write in the 3rd person, making it come across as an intellectual theory – it isn’t … it is me speaking from my personal experience. In it, my framing of depression has shifted and I ask what if depression is viewed as an illness of society itself rather than of its individuals?

In my body, as I sit and write these words, cells are dying and new cells are born in a natural cycle of life. When that cycle falls out of balance my body becomes sick. If a society is viewed as a living organism? What does it say about that society when individuals come to the conclusion that death is preferable to life? What does it say about that society that the number of such individuals is on the rise? How many individuals can a society lose in this way for it to become crippled?

Part 4: Oppression

My experience and understanding of the world (or at least the western part where I have lived) is that it is in dire condition. The word that came to me and stood out of the many adjectives that asked to be spoken out, is oppressive.

I am trying to hold that word as a physical reality. Imagine me shaking your hand: too soft tells you something about me, good firmness tells you something else, too firm can start to feel … oppressing. I feel oppressed when a force is applied to me in such a way that it infringes on my sense of freedom.

People can be oppressive, but so can the cold. A fast-moving conversation can be oppressive. The noise and bright lights of heavy traffic can be oppressive. Interacting with a bureaucrat can be oppressive. A schedule can be oppressive. Money can be oppressive. Technology can be oppressive. Rejection can be oppressive. There is plenty of potential for oppression, on top of which we have the human capacity to intentionally enact it.

The world I lived in was fast-changing and came at me with great force … it felt very oppressing. I was better able to appreciate the degree of oppression I experienced in the world when I stepped away from it and moved into a life of retreat. The contrast afforded to me by silence and isolation made the world I left behind seem even louder and more oppressive. That impression is reinforced whenever I step out of retreat and poke my head back into the world.

It seems to me that a healthy individual response to an environment that is experienced as hostile can take the form of something like depression. It is a graceful response to a poisonous offering. It says: thank you, but I prefer not to eat. It is a rejection of hostilities. It also seems reasonable to me that the agents of hostility would view this rejection as pathological.

Part5: Healing

I believe that in accepting the framing that “I am depressed” I do both myself and the society in which I partake a grave injustice. I allow a lie to persist in place of a truth. I allow a misdirection to creep in and that misdirection leads to incorrect efforts.

“My depression” was never healed and I don’t believe it can be healed. Trying to do so, I believe, is as effective as standing in a pile of shit and trying to meditate the smell away (<— a hint about how I feel about modern mindfulness). To make the smell go away step out of the pile of shit.

In retrospect, it seems that there was a fork in the path of my life. I don’t remember ever encountering an explicit fork, but it does seem like there was one and that I went one way and not the other.

One path is now only a hypothetical. I imagine that in it maybe I was “successfully” treated for depression. I am medicated, I have a job, I have a place to live and a mortgage to go with it, I am married, I have kids, I get to have family dinners, I go on vacations. I also am somewhat numbed, a bit bored by a sense of a dulling repetitive cycle that doesn’t seem to go anywhere but is reasonably comfortable so … I default into it. I feel like my perception is a bit cloudy, I feel that there is more to me then what I have become. Sometimes I even take a workshop to try to tap into it. Maybe I meditate a bit every day. Yet, despite my efforts, I feel that there is a deeper, more subtle, more vibrant, more subtle me which I don’t have access to.

The path I did seem to take was to stay stubbornly true to some inner guiding voice. It never felt like some heroic choice, it felt like I had no choice (and it came with a price). It was difficult because the inner voice seemed to place me on a path of friction with “reality”. It was difficult because when I felt weak or confused I was tempted to think of myself as crazy.

To cope, I learned to assume (even if it sometimes felt like I was only pretending) that I am a special being, sensitive, intuitive, thoughtful and considerate. I came to view the tensions I felt inside were an indication that I was out of alignment with my environment.

Part 6: Environment

Which brings me back to the snowflake … and how I believe my unfolding through life is different. I don’t just float through my environment, I am able to act on it and affect it: I can re-organize a room, I can paint a wall and hang a picture, I can move closer to or distance myself from people, I can change what I eat, I can change my occupation, I can choose a hobby, I can change what I wear, I can change how I move, I can change how I breathe, I can change where I live … and all these changes to my environment, in turn, act on me … change me.

I have come to believe that if I want to induce change in myself, the best point of leverage is to tap into the same unfolding dynamics that shaped me so far. If I am a result of all the environments through which I’ve lived, then if I want to affect my continuing unfolding I should change the environments in which I continue to live.

The path that I did end up taking (in that retrospective fork in the road) drastically changed my environment. Sometimes it felt that the only things that I got to keep were peeing in the morning and breathing (though that too wasn’t obvious in the beginning). So far it has landed me in a life of isolated retreat. It is not easy, not obvious and definitely not for everyone. However, it is the life I have been able to produce and sustain while remaining true to myself, relatively peaceful and mostly free of eroding anxiety.

This is in stark contrast to my father who’s was made up of different choices. If he and I both encountered a similar fork in the road, he took the other path.

Part 7: My Father

Late in life, my father was diagnosed with some kind of attention-deficit disorder. When reading a book he has to read the same paragraph five times (if he is lucky). He only reads headlines in newspapers. He has a hard time following characters and story-lines in movies (that have them). He is stubborn and quickly loses his patience. It takes him a great effort to respond briefly to an email (writing is difficult for him). Since my father does take some medication I am guessing that his brain chemistry is considered “not normal.”

My father is a son of two Holocaust survivors. He emigrated in his teens from an eastern European climate and culture to the young and immature country of Israel … in the middle-east where both the climate and the culture are hot. His family had only themselves, the clothes on their backs and the “privilege” (for which they waited over a decade) to be allowed to leave their home country (but not to take anything with them).

My father inherited a world where he needed to survive … which he did , successfully. He worked hard, struggled to make ends meet, to get everything that needed doing done. He had a first child of three (me) and then, during my first year on the planet, he disappeared for 6 months to fight in an existential war. That was long enough for me to reject him when he came back. He moved his family to yet another country where (I guess) he thought their chances of a better life were … better … and then moved us back when it turned out the “winnings” were a mixed bag of results.

My father was an engineer, he worked initially in electronics and later in software. In most of the work environments he experienced he ate shit that others dished, but he stuck through and provided for his family. Today he is retired and living comfortably with my mother (they are alone because my two sisters and I all left Israel).

Last year he suffered a spine injury that required surgery. After his surgery, I went to Israel. The circumstances turned out to be a unique opportunity for my father and I to meet around Yoga. My knowledge and skills were no longer just a distant curiosity for him, they pertained to his situation. Our spirals brought us into alignment. When I left he continued his yoga-based therapy with my Israeli teacher.

After he accumulated some practice time under his belt, we had a conversation where something more subtle began to emerge. He came to realize that he has a strategy which he employs in meeting life situations. His strategy is intellectual, rigid, forceful and aggressive. It surfaced because it isn’t very good in Yoga practice. This was a significant realization for him because he assumed that things were just as they were. He didn’t realize that he has a strategy, that there even is a strategy or that maybe, just maybe, he can change his strategy.

When that strategy is applied to reading, my father encounters a word he doesn’t know, he gets stuck. He has to stop, look up the word, understand what it means and brings it back into context. It makes for slow and frustrating reading. The strategy does not allow for continuous reading where flowing context gradually brings clarity.

When that strategy is applied to watching a movie on TV (as my parents still do) my father has a hard time recognizing characters. He will try to figure out who is this, where were they before, what did they say. Every moment of stuckness distracts from the movie that is continuing to play (it’s TV there is no pause button).

This strategy manifests as behaviors that generate and accumulates confusion, impatience, and anger … and I wonder what such an intellectual and emotional diet, over decades leads to? I suspect that it leads to artifacts and symptoms that we point to with labels such as autism and ADHD.

Part 8:Autism & ADHD

I believe that when we look at our present-day brain chemistries (or other biological indicators) and find measurements that we classify as autism or ADHD (or other pathological labels), what we are really seeing are cumulative biological responses (a few small indicators we like to pick out which I doubt aptly represent our deep complexity) that echo an impression of the life we’ve lived. If we seem to be able to group ourselves (in increasingly growing numbers) around sub-optimal indicators, that seems to warrant an inquiry into what seem to be flawed environments.

If a bunch of flowers in your garden bed withered and died, would you wonder what is wrong with the flowers? Or would you wonder if maybe they are not suitable for their growing conditions? Or maybe the soil itself is unhealthy?

I believe that when a human being lives in a fast-moving, aggressive, hostile and oppressive environment, depression, autism, ADHD seem like sensible (normal?) outcomes (as do psychopathy, blood pressure, heart failure and cancer).

I find it interesting that the categories of autism and ADHD seem like complementary responses. Autism seems like a kind of turning inwards as avoidance of excessive oppression. ADHD seems to stem from unprotected exposure to the excessive, oppressive intensity of the world, resulting in sensory overflow that strains and breaks attention.

I did not know what “neurodivergent” means (see the first tweet mentioned at the beginning of this post) so I looked it up and arrived at the Wikipedia page for Neurodiversity. I resonated with the notion of neurodiversity, it seems to be on a similar vibe to my belief about environmental shaping.

As I was writing this I realized a tension in the terminology: neurodiverse and neurodivergent are not the same. Neurodivergent seems to literally imply that there is some kind of baseline of “normal” from which there can be an assessment of “divergence.” I do not subscribe to this view. I do not believe there is a “normal.”

I agree that the framing of “there is something wrong with me” is primitive and flawed. I agree that a framing in which your place in the whole makes sense is better and healthier. I can relate to a sense of relief that can come from learning that you are not alone. However, I still cringe at the labeling because I believe that, as with my depression, it places our individual and collective attention in the wrong (or at least less effective) place.

Consider a case (given in one of the response tweets) where you discover that you have difficulties meeting the demands of your work – this can be just your “average” work anxiety or something more severe – bordering on what can feel like autism or ADHD. If it is framed as an “individual” issue, the situation is addressed as such:

“… lets me have some frank discussions with work about that tasks I will shine at vs the ones that will give me fits. So they get better productivity and I get less stress

What if you assume that you are obviously (according to the view of neurodiversity) unique in your abilities, sensitivities, and needs? What if you assume that, by extension, so is everyone else? What if you assume that in some qualities you are more sensitized then others (and that in other qualities others are more sensitized then you)?

If that is the case then maybe the difficulties that you are experiencing are an indication of a compromised quality in your workplace environment. Your special sensibilities are not a handicap, they are a gift. You are not autistic, you are an antenna that is highly sensitive to vibrations that create stress and oppression in human beings. You can still have the same “frank discussion with your work”, but now the discussion isn’t just about you and your needs and your productivity. It is about making the workplace better for everyone. How can we change the work environment so that everyone will experience less stress and be able to shine?

Part 9: Intimate Activism?

Note: I did not anticipate this section when I started out on this reflection. I was surprised when it emerged and took on a life of its own!

Can a shift from “something is wrong with me” to “something is wrong with my environment” point to a kind of intimate activism. Can we engage in a meaningful effort to heal the environments we inhabit daily? What if we embrace the embodied tensions we experience as invitations to improve the more intimate and familiar environments that directly affect us?

I would like to continue to embrace the example of “autism” in a workplace:

The “autistic” label on an individual invites “treating the individual” as a solution. To some extent, individual treatment may help to meet the onslaught of forces that come from the environment … but it is, for the most part, a losing battle … a diminishing cycle for the individual. But if it is possible to have a conversation with the work place and adapt to individual needs there may be some improvement … a reducing of the oppressive load:

But what happens if we also move the label:

This re-framing seems ti invite a bigger picture … what about the others?

Can feedback from one individual become learning that effects others? What about feedback from others?

Can the oppressive nature of the work place be gradually softened? Can it go beyond being “less oppressive” to being “nourishing”?

Is it possible to arrive at a cycle where the relationship between a work place and an individual becomes mutually nourishing? Can an effort that was sickness-oriented be transformed to become growth-oriented?

But what about an even bigger picture? The work-place itself exists in an environment of its own. The work-place itself experiences oppressive forces from its environment. In fact, it is very likely that the oppression that individuals feel within a work place originate from the environment in which the work place operates. For example: how do the forces that capitalism exerts on work-places transform into forces that the work-place exerts on the individuals?

And if I continue that exploration I find that capitalism also exists within a hostile environment. For example, what kind of forces does the architecture of money exert on capitalism that capitalism then exerts on the work-place that ultimately exerts them onto individuals which causes their brain chemistry to change?

What about reductionist thought … how does that shape the architecture of money and exert forces on it that … ripple out all the way to our brain chemistry … and blood chemistry … and muscle tension … and liver … and kidneys … and heart …

… and what if by shifting the labeling from the individuals to the environment we start to have a healing conversation with the entire stack of environments?

As we awaken to these deep relationships we start to inquire how we can affect them. We recognize reductive patterns and ask how can we be less reductive? I sometimes get a feeling that this kind of inquiry leads individuals to linear (reductionist!) efforts: we take direct aim at reductionism itself. But it is so abstract, so deeply buried in us that we can’t seem to do much about it.

But what if there is a better effort … right under noses? By shifting the label and making our work-place better we may begin a change that can ripple outwards. Maybe the work-place begins to question capitalism? When enough work-places do that maybe capitalism itself will question its relationship with money and as money changes maybe it’s relationship with reductionism may change?

I realize this may sound like a fairy-tale. When I left my career, I gave up on trying. But things are changing.

Part 10: As a Yoga Teacher

The tradition of Yoga I practice and teach places an emphasis on the student. At the center of practice is never a posture or a teaching but a student. It is my responsibility as a teacher to shape and adapt a practice to fit a student. This form of Yoga is inherently therapeutic:

  • If a student is strong, healthy and vibrant, a practice will be tailored accordingly.
  • If a student has an injured knee (due to a bicycle accident) and a weak spine (due to life long neglect) then a practice will be tailored according to that.
  • If a student is a woman in her 30’s juggling a career and a family, she will be given a unique practice.
  • If a student is a young man dealing with parents divorcing that will be met with a uniquely tailored practice.
  • If a student is a retired woman dealing with a loss of a loved partner, that will be met with yet another unique practice.

… and all of these practices will continue to shift and change and refine over time as the individual changes both in response to the practice itself and the continuing arc of life.

Labels (such as depression, autism or ADHD) are of very little use to me as a teacher. They may point in a general direction but they are generalizations. They place a veil of assumptions over the uniqueness of every individual who arrives with a unique life history, unique needs, unique capabilities, and unique opportunities (all of which change over time and in response to the practice itself).

Part 11: Richard

The person who retweeted the tweet that brought this subject into my consciousness is Richard. He seems to have joined this autism bandwagon.

For what it’s worth I consider Richard to be a leader – both in his thinking and in his actions. I sometimes imagine sharing space with him. He meets and seems to touch people deeply. His candid and vulnerable thinking seems to appeal to others and his vibration is rippling into the world.

Mostly I feel alone and unable to connect with the world the way Richard does. Knowing Richard is out there, doing his thing, gives me some comfort. I feel like the world is being cared for. I feel that the soft, vulnerable, fragile and valuable ideas he carries are held well in his heart and carried effectively into the world. This doesn’t alleviate my loneliness (sometimes it exacerbates it) but it does make it just a bit easier for me to inhabit it peacefully.

Richard, I hope you understand that I sincerely feel I understand why you would label yourself as autistic. However, I also hope that you can understand why attaching that label evokes dissonance within me and why I feel a need to reject it. I embrace the sensitivities and quirks that the label represents to you … but not the label itself. I hope you understand!

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Bryan Ungard – Deliberately Developmental Organisations

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This came to me via Richard Bartlett and:

  1. Listening to it while reading Christopher Alexander’s A Timeless Way of Building feels almost eerie … as if Bryan is looking over my shoulder and re-whispering the book in my ear recontextualized from the architecture of buildings to the architecture of organizations.
  2. I felt a deep sense of relief and gratitude and a strengthening of trust in the world … that this view is taking root in an actual organization.
  3. I appreciated a sense of grounding coming from Bryan, rooted, I believe, in the fact that he is speaking from EXPERIENCE … that he’s attempted to apply, made mistakes, adjusted course … this is living knowledge.
  4. I love that there is a title “Chief Purpose Officer” and that someone like Bryan occupies it.

Thank you, Bryan, for this heartfelt & thoughtful manifestation of purpose.

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The Order of the Language

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Design is often thought of as a process of synthesis, a process of putting together things, a process of combination.

According to this view, a whole is created by putting together parts. The parts come first: the the form of the whole comes second.

But it is impossible to form anything which has the character of nature by adding preformed parts … it is impossible for every part to be unique, according to its position in the whole.

… It is only possible to make a place which is alive by a process in which each part is modified by its position in the whole.

… This is a differentiating process.

It views design as a sequence of acts of complexification; structure is injected into the whole by operating on the whole and crinkling it … the whole gives birth to its parts … The form of the whole, and the parts, come into being simultaneously.

The image of the differentiating process is the growth of an embryo.

It starts as a single cell … grows into a ball of cells. Then, through a series of differentiations, each building on the last, the structure become more and more complex, until a finished human being is formed.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building

The first thing that happens is that this ball gets an inside, a middle layer and an outside … which will later turn into skeleton, flesh and skin … then … gets an axis … [that] will become the spine … and so on. At every stage of development, new structure is laid down, o the basis of the structure which has een laid down so far …

The unfolding of a design in the ind of its creator, under the influence of a pattern language, is just the same.

A language allows you to generate an image of a building in your mind, by placing patterns in space, one pattern at a time.

… this process only works because the patterns in the language have a certain order.

… The patterns will only allow me to form a single coherent image in my mind, if the order that I take them in allows me to build an image of a design gradually one pattern at a time.

And I shall only be able to do this if each pattern is always consistent with the total image which I have built from all the earlier patterns in the sequence.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building

… But how exactly, does each pattern work?

… Ask yourself how this pattern would look if it were already in the place where you are wanting it.

… To do it you need only let it happen in your mind … Suddenly, without your making any conscious effort, your mind will show you how …

Do not consciously try to create the patter. If you do this, the images and ideas in your mind will distort it, will begin to take over, and the pattern itself will never make its way into the world: instead there will be a “design.”

… Your mind is a medium within which the creative spark that jumps between the pattern and the world can happen. You yourself are only the medium for this creative spark, not its originator.

You may find this way of letting patterns form themselves, unusual.

To do it, you must let go of your control and let the pattern do the work. You cannot do this, normally, because you are trying to make decisions without having confidence in the basis for them.

… You may be afraid that the design wont work if you take just one pattern at a time … what guarantee is there that all the patterns will fit together coherently?

… The greatest fear we experience in the process of design is that everything will not work out. And yet the building will become alive only when you can let go of this fear.

… The order of the language will make sure that it is possible.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building
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Attention to Reality

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And it is in the end only when our feelings are perfectly in touch with the reality of forces, that we begin to see the patterns which are capable of generating life.

That is what is hard – because so often people choose to put their own opinions forward, in place of reality.

… Yet it is hard to give up preconceptions of what things “ought to be,” and recognize things as they really are.

… Any preconception about the way things “ought to be” always interferes with your sense of reality, it prevents you from seeing what is actually going on – and this will always prevent you from making the environment alive. It will prevent you from inventing or discovering new patterns when you see them – and most of all – it will prevent you from using such patterns properly, to create a whole environment.

In this respect attention to reality gpes far beyond the realm of values.

Usually peoplep say that the choice of patterns depends on your opinions about what is important.

… When we try to resolve disagreements like this, we are led back to people’s fundamental goals, or values. But people do not agree about their values … the best you can say, according to this view, is that a certain pattern does or doesn’t help to satisfy a certain goal or value. Or that some “forces” are “good” and others “bad.”

But a pattern which is real makes no judgements about the legitimacy of the forces in the situation.

By seeming to be unethical, by making no judgement about individual opinions, or goals or values, the pattern rises to another level of morality.

Its result is to allow things to be alive – and this is a higher good than the victory of any one artificial system of values. The attempt to have a victory for a one-sided view of the world cannot work anyway, even for the people who seem to win their point of view. The forces which are ignored do not go away just because they are ignored. They lurk, frustrated, underground. Sooner or later they erupt in violence: and the system which seems to win is then exposed to far more catastrophic dangers.

The only way that a pattern can actually help to make s situation genuinely more alive is by recognizing all the forces which actually exist, and then finding a world in which these forces can slide past each other.

Then it becomes a piece of nature.

When we see the pattern of the ripples in a pond, we know that this pattern is simply in equilibrium with the forces which exist: without any mental interference which is clouding them.

And, when we succeed, finally in seeing so deep into a man-made pattern, that it is no longer clouded by opinion or by images, then we have discovered a piece of nature as valid, as eternal, as the ripples in the surface of a pond.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building
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… not quite adding!?

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Ryan Singer posted this on twitter:

“Adding” and “integration” are different operations: Adding: Bolt working wholes together w/ no problem solving. Integration: Solve lots of problems to connect parts together into a working whole. Complex problem? Orthogonalize into integration problems that can then be added.

source

I had to read it a couple of times to get it … and I did. But when I did I also realized that it left a tension in me (that in retrospect was related to why I had to read it more than once). The tension originated from a dissonance between:

  1. The “adding” being the healthier operation.
  2. The description of adding as “bolting holes together” which feels to me oddly mechanistic and ill-suited and that
  3. The description of “Integration” does speak to a “working whole”

**points 2 & 3 originate from what I understand to be Ryan’s relationship to the work of Christopher Alexander … a relationship that evokes in me a sense of kinship.

Alexander speaks of growth inspired by the way nature does it – from the inside it. An embryo is a common example: there are never parts that are added or integrated. The single cell is whole and by splitting becomes more whole (larger with a more refined internal structure) … over and over again. With that in mind I reflected on Ryan’s discernment between “adding” and “integrating”.

I imagined the software as a kind of living blob:

… and as it lives and interacts with the world it inhabits, ultimately seeds appear – a seed represents a potential need (eg: JTBD) … at first they may go unnoticed … a slight itch or hiccup in the flow of operation:

When it is noticed … what gradually becomes noticed is that something is missing … a void:

When that void becomes valuable enough and it is shaped … it expands … and even though not a single line of code has been written, the software as a being has “grown” to become a space.

When work is invested into it, it starts to become inhabited … not a void since there is a kind of ideological integration already in place … but not yet functioning as a part of the whole:

As the development cycle nears completion and most tasks are over the hump of the hill-chart … the new part starts to blend in:

Until finally (especially as time passes) you can hardly separate it from the whole:

The adding is from the inside-out and integration is ALWAYS present:

  1. The initial itch / hiccup seed is naturally integrated (it is born from the existing living software).
  2. The void is integrated in the sense that someone has recognized it WITHIN the whole software.
  3. The space that it becomes means that someone has seen how it can be made to be a living part (=integrated) of the whole software.
  4. If it is inhabited well it means that more people (now creating design/code…) are seeing how it can be made to be a living part of the whole (=integrated).
  5. As the new piece of software is completed the integration matures from the domain of idea to the domain of matter (as much as software can be matter).
  6. And when it fits into the whole, the new software as a separate thing is practically forgotten = deep integration.

I imagine that this pattern repeats itself in different scales. On a larger (zoomed out) scale the software itself was born this way when it started as a specific need within a living domain in the world … and can be viewed as inhabiting the world in this way:

And on a smaller scale (zooming it) the making of the new part of software is itself a living process of smaller parts going through similar pathways of maturity from ideological integration to manifested integration.

In this way integration is a systemic attribute … a quality … not an activity that you do explicitly.

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Consequences

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There is a special time, a special transition … when I complete the asana part of practice and transition to pranayama and sitting. Today, just as that time arrived the world outside exploded with the noise of barking dogs … many dogs … our dogs and others.

A neighbor came driving down the road from their house, past ours. The road is very muddy and slippery. A few days ago an excavator finished working here, burying a main water line. The work left the road and the area around it extra-muddy.

It is NOT a good time of the year to do this kind of excavation work. The transitions from fall-to-winter and winter-to-spring are notoriously muddy.

Then some rain arrived and made everything even muddier. The neighbor came down the road and to avoid the mud he veered to the right of the road, onto the edge where our property meets the road, where it is slightly less muddy. There he got entangled in some barbed wire that was lying on the ground.

Our dogs started barking at the “event” and their barking summoned the pack of dogs that escort the herd of sheep that graze next to our land.

The sheep should have been gone by now, but since it hasn’t snowed and the ground hasn’t frozen over, the owner of the herd prefers to keep them on the land (though the grazing area is almost completely shaved to the ground) which is apparently easier than keeping them enclosed and having to feed them.

It also happens that the dogs are going into heat. And a couple of the sheep-herd dogs are at it right across the street. Other sheep-herd dogs are gathered around the mating couple barking hysterically. Our dogs are barking hysterically at the other barking dogs (long after the entangled neighbor has disentangled and departed).

In Romanian villages most people don’t believe in or bother to castrate male dogs or to sterilize females. When approached with this idea they either laugh it off or are abhorred by it. They are not abhorred at drowning puppies or dumping them in a remote field.

A stray male dog we nicknamed Romeo is also hanging around. He got Tana pregnant last year and is a major contributing factor to us having four barking dogs (instead of two … that is a whole other separate “consequences” post). He is around because the females are in heat. But he is a single male facing a pack of dogs … and he is getting the shit kicked out of him … and he can’t help but coming back for more. All this raises the barking level even more.

Why is there barbed wire lying on the ground? Because I haven’t collected it! I haven’t collected it because it is a shit task low on my list of priorities and difficult to do on my own. But why is it there in the first place?

The sheep constantly move up and down the road, because they graze higher up in the valley but need to be moved down the valley to where there is water they can drink. When the herd was smaller the owner brought large water containers by tractor. I am guessing that was tedious work and that when his herd grew tedious became impractical.

Gotta grow! Why would someone bring sheep to a grazing area that doesn’t have water? Because all the other grazing areas are occupied with other herds and herd owners. Because sheep are a big business (made up of a many small businesses) in Romania and the growth imperative translates directly into systemic and destructive over-grazing.

Most of the time the herd owner hired shepherds of the “I don’t give a fuck” mindset. As the herd was passing up and down the road sheep would constantly “leak” all over our land. After YEARS of talking and trying to find understanding the herd owner, we agreed to put in a “fence” together. Basically he cut down some trees into posts and pounded them into the ground and I strung up two lines of … you guessed it … barbed wire to keep the sheep out.

The “fence” kind of worked … it helped the “I don’t give a fuck” shepherds to slightly better guide the herd along the road. Of course, shortly after we had the fence in place that they added goats to the herd. The goats easily and merrily jumped over the “fence”.

The improvised “fence” deteriorated over the few years it has been up until most of the barbed wire has fallen to the ground and got covered by grasses. Fortunately, this year the herd owner hired a much better shepherd … an older man with a family who whistles a lot more and drinks a lot less … who is able to herd the sheep with more precision and efficiency and respect for our wish to stay off our land. So the “fence” is currently redundant … and I (who didn’t want a fence in the first place) am left with the task of collecting a few hundred meters of barbed wire.

… unless of course next year a different shepherd will arrive … another member of the “I don’t give a fuck” clan … in which case I may want the barbed wire in place.

… and all I really want is a quiet practice space!

… from that quiet space I see choices and actions rippling out over time … realizing that such dynamics and forces are constantly at play (whether or not we are aware of them) and that there is no stopping this rippling and resonating … we can either align ourselves with such dynamics into relationships of growth and improvement … or we can get entangled with them in disruption and confusion …

The sheep and the disruptive patterns deeply embedded in their presence will leave soon and the valley will settle into a few months of peaceful quiet winter.

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EXTRA Ordinary (Deepest Insights)

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We have a habit of thinking that the deepest insights, the most mystical, and spiritual insights, are somehow less ordinary than most things – that they are extraordinary.

This is only the shallow refuge of the person who does not yet know what he is doing.

In fact, the opposite is true: the most mystical, most religious, most wonderful – these are not less ordinary than most things – they are more ordinary than most things.

It is because they are so ordinary, indeed, that they strike to the core.

… What makes them hard to find is … that they are so ordinary, so utterly basic in the ordinary breat and butter sense – that we never think of looking for them.

… You may wonder – if the rules are so simple to express – what is there that makes a builder great?

And indeed, there is an answer … it takes almost inhuman singleness of purpose to insist on them – not to let go of them.

Christopher Alexander – The Timeless Way of Building
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Palpable Organic Tension

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When I witnessed patterns that I felt “could be improved” I used to go right at the pattern and try “to make it better”. That approach didn’t seem to work very well for me. I now try to look beyond the surface pattern that caught my attention.

I have come to prefer a different approach. I try to identify underlying patterns that create the conditions for the larger pattern. I find that working at more basic patterns is more practical and more likely to have an effect on higher-order patterns.

Instead of struggling to pull weeds can I do something about the soil conditions that invite those weeds to grow? Instead of struggling to contort my body to a yoga posture can I do something about the breath that will invite change in my experience of and relationship with my body?

I find myself wondering what this would mean for groups of people trying to collaborate. How to strike a balance between giving energy to the “what” a group is trying to do and giving energy to “how” a group is – to fundamental patterns of communication and co-existence that give the group its underlying forms and processes? In most of my past experiences, the latter was neglected.

This excerpt from Christopher highlights how subtle underlying forces and patterns can shape our experience and how important it is to properly tend to them:

Part1: Forces Acting

“When you are in a living room for any length of time, two of the many forces acting on you are the following:

1. You have a tendency to go towards the light …

2. If you are in the room for any length of time, you probably want to sit down …

In a room which has at least one window taht is a “place” a window seat, a bay window, a window with a wide low windowsill … in this room you can give in to both forces: you can resolve the conflict for yourself.

In short, you can be comfortable.

If the windows are just holes in the wall … one force pulls me towards the window; but another force pulls me towards the natural “places” in the room … I am pushed and pulled by these two forces; there is nothing I can do to prevent the inner conflict they create in me.

The instinctive knowledge that a room is beautiful when it has a window place in it is thus not an aesthetic whim. It is an instinctive expression of the fact that a room without a window place is filled with actual, palpable organic tension; and that a room which has one lacks this tension and is, from a simple organic point of view, a better place to live.”

Christopher Alexander – The Timeless Way of Building

Part 2: Stress

“We constantly meet conflicts or problems, during the course of a day: and each time, the body goes into a state of “stress” to mobilize itself, to deal with the conflict, to resolve the conflict.

This effect is physiological … Under normal conditions, when we solve the difficulty, cope with the threat, resolve the conflict, the stress then disappears.

… But a pattern which prevents us from resolving our conflicting forces, leaves us almost perpetually in a state of tension.

… The build-up of stress, however minor, stays with is. We live in a state of heightened alertness, higher stress, more adrenalin, all the time.

This stress is no longer functional. It becomes a huge drain on the system … undermines us … cuts us down, reduces our ability to meet new challenges, reduces our capacity to live, and helps to make us dead … [the corresponding “good” patterns … help us to be alive, because they allow us to resolve our conflicts for ourselves]”

Christopher Alexander – The Timeless Way of Building

Part3: System

“… Consider the “architecture” of a system in which patterns co-exist. … each of them is relatively more alive, or more dead … relatively stable, and self-sustaining – or it is relatively stable and self-destroying.

Each of these “dead” patterns is incapable of containing its own forces and keeping them in balance. What happens then, is that these forces leak out, beyond the confines of the pattern where they occur, and start to infect other patterns.

… once the configuration is put out of balance, these forces remain in the system, unresolved, wild, out of balance, until in the end, the whole system must collapse.

… The individual configurations of ay one pattern requires other patterns to keep itself alive.

For instance, a Window Place, is stable, and alive, only of many other pattern which go with it, and are needed to support it, are alive themselves: for instance: Low Windowsill, to solve the problem of the view and the relation to the ground; Casement Window to … allow people to lean out and breathe the outside air; Small Panes to let the window generate a strong connection between the inside and the outside.

If these smaller patterns, which resolve smaller systems of forces in the window place, are missing from the window place itself, then the pattern doesn’t work.

… Now we begin to see what happens when the patterns in the world collaborate.”

Christopher Alexander – The Timeless Way of Building

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Yoga Practice – Prayer Withing Closing Ritual November 2019

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After translating the closing ritual to Hebrew I started using the Hebrew notation in practice (spoken silently in my heart). Doing so changed my sense of it. It transformed beyond a list and took on a narrative quality. The narrative quality invited a series of new transformations.

Before the Hebrew translation came into being, the transformations of the ritual were expanding it from the inside out. The Hebrew translation changed the nature of the transformations. Now they became more about changing the internal order into a sequence (and narrative) that felt more continuous and whole.

The structure of the ritual has remained unchanged. The “prayer” part of it is what has been unfolding. What follows is the updated “prayer” part. First the modified Hebrew version and then an accordingly modified English version.

אני מברך על החומר הגלום בעולם
אני מברך על הייקום העצום המתפרש לכל עבר
אני מברך על השמש, על חומה ועל אורה
אני מברך על האדמה שנושאת אותי ואשר ממנה אני עשוי
אני מברך על השמיים שנוצרו בין השמש לאדמה שעוטפים אותי ומעניקים נשימה
אני מברך על מרחב החיים שנוצר בין השמיים לאדמה בהם אני שותף

אני מברך על אמי נורית ועל אבי יעקב
אני מברך על אחותי רויטל ועל אחותי אורית
אני מברך על קודמינו, על קודמיהם ועל קודמי קודמיהם
אני מברך על קרובי דמינו, שהיו ושהינם
אני מברך על מקורבי לבי ועל שומרי נפשי
אני מברך על הנפש, מקור ההתבוננות הנצחית

אני מברך על התלמיד שבקרבי
אני מברך על המורה שבקרבתי, שהלך כברת דרך לפני
אני מברך על מורתי זיוה ועל מורי פול
אני מברך על דסיקצ’ר ואביו קרישנמצ’ריה
אני מברך על מוריהם ומורי מוריהם
אני מברך על התובנות שצלחו את הדורות

אני מברך על היוגה, על המחוברות השלמות והשייכות
אני מקדיש את שהתגלה לי למסעינו המשותף

Purusa & Prakrti

  • I dedicate a breath to prakrti – that which is eternally changing.
  • I dedicate a breath to the enormous cosmos reaching out in all directions.
  • I dedicate a breath to the sun and the light and warmth that it radiates
  • I dedicate a breath to the earth which carries me and of which I am made.
  • I dedicate a breath to the sky that form between earth and sun and that bring forth breath
  • I dedicate a breath to the space that forms between the sky and the earth which brings forth a life in which I partake.
  • I dedicate a breath to my mother.
  • I dedicate a breath to my father.
  • I dedicate a breath to the older of my two sisters.
  • I dedicate a breath to the younger of my two sisters.
  • I dedicate a breath to our ancestors.
  • I deiecate a breath to our ancestor’s ancestors.
  • I dedicare a breath to our past and present blood relatives
  • I dedicate a breath to kindred spirirts with whom I’ve shared a heart connection
  • I dedicate a breath to guardian angels who guide my spirit.
  • I dedicate a breath to purusa – that which eternally sees.

Student, Teacher, Teaching

  • I dedicate a breath to the student in me.
  • I dedicate a breath to the teacher near me who walks ahead of me on the path.
  • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Ziva.
  • I dedicate a breath to my teacher Paul.
  • I dedicate a breath to Paul’s teacher Desikachar.
  • I dedicate a breath to Desikachar’s teacher (and father) Krishnamacharya.
  • I dedicate a breath to all of their teachers.
  • I dedicate a breath to all their teacher’s teachers.
  • I dedicate a breath to the teachings that have traveled down through time
  • I dedicate a breath to Yoga – to connectedness, wholeness and belonging.
  • I dedicate that which has been revealed to me to our shared exploration.
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Wholehearted

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A man is alive when he is wholehearted, true to himself, true to his own inner forces, and able to act freely according to the nature of the situations he is in …

… it is a state of being in which all forces which arise in a man can find expression; he lives in balance among the forces which arise in him; he is unique as the patters of forces which arises is unique; he it at peace, since there are no disturbances created by underground forces which have no outlet, at one with himself and his surroundings.

This state cannot be reached merely by inner work.

There is a myth, sometimes widespread that a person need do only inner work, in order to be alive like this, that man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself. This teachins has some value, since it is so easy for a man to imagine that his problems are caused by “others.” But it is a one-sided and mistaken view which also maintains the arrogance of the belief that the individual is self sufficient, and not dependent in any essential way on his surroundings.

The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.

Christopher Alexander – A Timeless Way of Building
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Space is Not Mute

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… Here right now was the space of my building, as plain and fresh as it would ever be.

And what it helped me to understand is that space is not mute, that it does speak to us, and hat we respond to it more directly, more viscerally, than all the cerebral, left brained talk about sgns and conventions would have us think … This is not to say that the experience wasn’t rich with meanings and layered with symbols; it was, but the meanings and dymbols were of a different order than the ones the architectural theorists talk about: no key was required to unlock their meaning.

Well, actually there is one key needed to unlock the experience of this room … I mean, of course, the human body, without which the experience of the room as I have described it would be meaningless …

… Contrary to the teachings of Euclidean geometry, we don’t really exist on an indifferent Cartesian grid, one where all spaces are alike and interchangeable, their coordinates given in the neutral terms of x, y, and z. Our bodies invest space with a very different set of coordinates, and these are no less real for being subjective. As Aristotle noted, up carries a vert different connotation than down, front than back, inside than outside, vertical than horizontal … something like verticality … is something given to us, not made. And it came into the world at the moment when our species first stood erect. Our bodies were making meaning out of the world long before our language had a chance to.

… To manhandle a post into place, to join it to a beam that holds up a roof, is just the kind of work to remind you that, no matter how much cultural baggage can be piled onto something like a column … it is at bottom different from a word in a language. Though perhaps a bit muffled by current architectural discourse, the architectural column still speaks to us of things as elemental as standing up, of withstanding gravity, and of the trees that supported the roots of our first homes on earth.

… Certain architectural configurations (or patterns, to use Christopher Alexander‘s term) survive simply because they have proven over time to be a good way to reconcile human needs, the laws of nature, the facts of the human body, and the materials at hand.

Michael Pollan – A Place of My Own
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Happens to the Heart

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What is it that dies and what lives on?

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Learning a Mantra

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A few weeks ago I decided to change the mantra I chant at the opening of my practice from its short-form version to its full version. Each verse in the full version is collapsed to a single line in the short version.

Because I was already established in the short version I had a familiarity with the underlying structure of the mantra and its narrative. When I looked at the full version I instantly noticed that there is a recurring pattern in it. I was tempted to approach it analytically: to intellectually figure out the structure and then efficiently commit the more concise pattern to memory instead of having to “memorize” the whole thing.

However something about this approach was turning me off. I did not want to make the experience of learning a mantra into an intellectual problem solving excercise. I also recognized two problems:

  1. Though I could see the structure clearly, I had difficulty describing the pattern intellectually.
  2. The last verse did not fit the pattern and looking at it with a pattern in mind creating a subtle friction … it, in relation to the pattern, was broken. I would have to remember how it is broken to memorize it as an exception from the pattern.

So I dropped this line of inquiry and decided to learn the mantra by chanting it … through repetition. For two weeks I chanted it with a paper in hand. All the time I could feel an internal dialogue:

  1. One voice pressing to figure it out sooner … so that I could commit it to memory and immerse myself in chanting with my eyes closed and hands on my heart space (instead of holding a paper with open eyes).
  2. Another voice offering softness and understanding to the intellectual voice and inviting me to “just keep chanting the mantra … trusting it will set roots”.

After two weeks I felt it held me and that I could set the paper down and chant from memory. I kept the paper next to me so I could turn to it if necessary … and I did, a couple of times, when I felt doubt and wanted to confirm my progress. After that it had me. I did not try to memorize it but it was there, available to me.

In retrospect, I believe the choice to take an experiential path instead of an intellectual path was valuable. I feel that it activated in me a different kind of learning. Though the intellectual craving has also been fulfilled, it happened indirectly. It left me wondering: Where did the resonance of sound go into my body? Where did learning and pattern recognition take place inside me? What did learning through reverberation do to me as a whole being?

I feel that learning this way allowed me to spend more time in an unknown dimension. I feel that an intellectual pursuit would have circumvented this immersion in the unknown. It was interesting to meet this potential in the context of chanting. A feeling of having traveled through unknown is familiar to me from asana practice. I can clearly observe changes in my physicality and breath, but I rarely (if ever) have an intellectual understanding of what has changed.

I find that these possibilities to practice being in unknown are a valuable opportunities on the mat that serve me well off the mat. It is like a muscle that develops allowing me to recognize and more gracefully inhabit not knowing in life.

Posted in Chanting, Expanding, inside, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga & I | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours